The Dead Kennedys (DK) are a punk band with hits such as “California über alles”, a commentary on California’s two-time governor, Jerry Brown (watch here). They also took on sustainability issues and I think they had it right. Hat’s off to Jello Biafra and the gang. In their compilation album of 1987 entitled, “Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death,” DK’s album title is a play on the famous quote by the US Revolutionary Era politician, Patrick Henry, who proclaimed, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!” Henry’s quote came from his famous speech to the Virginia state parliament, the House of Burgess, in March, 1775 in Richmond, Virginia. The full quote from the ending to Henry’s speech is thought to be, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, Give me Liberty, or give me Death!”
So what do the Dead Kennedys and Patrick Henry have to do with global warming, climate change, environmental deterioration, and the impending resource scarcity crisis? Henry’s message from 1775 is clearly that freedom for the American colonies is so precious that it is paramount above all else, even life itself. What the Dead Kennedys are espousing in their 1987 album with its puck rock polemic is that wanton consumerism and wasting of material things derived from our precious resources is more important to human society than anything else, even life. Thus, “Give me convenience or give me death.”
Consumerism in its earliest forms made life for humans and human societal functionality more palatable. It can now be argued that societal perception of consumerism has morphed significantly during the 20th and 21st centuries. Before this time, having appliances and goods that make daily easier was viewed somewhat as a privilege for which one is grateful. Now it seems that the reckless purchase, consumption, and wasting of goods obtained from resources of any kind is essentially a pathological obsession for material “things.” The “throwaway society” was born. Chemicals which are pivotal for making consumables were created using nuclear reactions with incomprehensible amounts of energy in distant stars. What the Universe took billions of years to create and to convey to Earth, society consumes and wastes in a matter of days.
A final note submitted for your consideration. In Chapter 1 of “Other Inconvenient Truths Beyond Global Warming,” the account of the rats of the Mautam is told. Once every 48 years, local black rat populations (Rattus rattus in the Mizoram environ of India) explode in huge numbers because of the production of bamboo fruit. The locals refer to these events as the “Mautam”. The hordes of rats decimate crops and food supplies in the nearby villages leading to potential famine conditions for the human inhabitants. The rats are also decimated. The rats consume the new resource with a vengeance, see their populations skyrocket and still continue to consume. As the bamboo fruit is exhausted, the rats’ societal structure collapses and degenerates into cannibalism with female rats eating their young. There are compelling lessons to be taken from the Mautam incidents. It should be noted that the events in Mizoram are real and not the subject of a fictional story or movie. There are clearly parallels between the actions of the rats of the Mautam and the consequences of unbridled human activity and associated resource consumption. Consumerism in its earlier forms in balance with resource availability and the environment needs to be standard. The alternatives as depicted by Nature are too abhorrent to even consider and must be avoided at all costs.
-Dr. Alan Rozich
Photo credits: Dead Kennedys Logo, Patrick Henry Speaking to the House of Commons-Wikimedia Commons; Common Black Rat-Wikimedia Commons and Rathater